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Third Wahakura workshop this weekend

Te Pūtahi-a-Toi School of Maori Knowledge, Massey University, will host a weaving wananga in Palmerston North. Jenny Firmin (rāranga teacher, nō Whanganui), will be teaching the wahakura waikawa style to hapū māmā, their whanau, weavers and supporting professionals.

The workshops have been so popular that numbers have had to be capped, with more wananga to be provided next year. The event is organised by the Mokopuna Ora Collective, which MidCentral DHB contributes to, alongside Plunket, Barnardos, Supergrans, Te Ohu Auahi Mutunga and others in the women and children’s health sphere.

Sharing positive hauora messages and connecting with other support networks locally will be another focus of the weekend.

Wahakura are unique lovingly hand-woven sleep spaces for pepi made out of harakeke and using the tradition of rāranga. The wahakura is the first kaupapa Māori safe-sleeping device. It is a contemporary solution to help combat ‘Sudden Unexpected Death in Infancy’ (SUDI) based on the customary practice of weaving harakeke. Wahakura also support Māori cultural values of co-sleeping, promote bonding and breastfeeding, and allow for parents to respond instantaneously to their pepi during the first few weeks of life.

Ms Firmin has developed a method to teach the waikawa style of weaving wahakura with non-weavers, particularly whānau who are expecting a pepi. Teaching whānau how to make their own wahakura will empower whānau to create their own pathways to whānau ora or wellbeing.

Jenny recalls the quote “give a man a fish and you feed him for a day, teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.” She believes that teaching whānau how to weave rather than do it for them creates further opportunities for whānau to think about how they are preparing to welcome their new pepi into the world while producing a wahakura that is unique and reflects the aspirations of the whānau.

Ms Firmin learnt the waikawa style of weaving wahakura from Dawn Kereru from Gisborne five years ago. She says “it’s where I developed a strong passion and aroha for the kaupapa” by using customary weaving practice to create a beautiful safe sleep space for whānau and their pepi.

The understandings and tikanga (cultural practices) associated with harakeke; weaving and wahakura have many similarities with pregnancy, birth and raising tamariki. For example, Hineteiwaiwa is the goddess of both weaving and childbirth. The harakeke plant is made up of a fan with a rito (pepi) in the centre, surrounded by the mātua rau (parent leaf) and then the kaumātua rau (grandparent leaves). The rito and mātua rau are always nurtured and never harvested as they ensure the future survival and wellbeing of the plant.


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